Magazine article Marketing

Amanda Aldridge on Retail: WH Smith and M&S Are Trading on Old Loyalties

Magazine article Marketing

Amanda Aldridge on Retail: WH Smith and M&S Are Trading on Old Loyalties

Article excerpt

There seems to be an unprecedented number of UK retailers experiencing a difficult time at the moment. When I scan the business pages of the newspapers, I find stories about the troubles and travails of WH Smith, Marks & Spencer et al.

Until recently another stalwart of the British high street, Mothercare, could have been included on this list of troubled organisations. I pick out this company because, as a mother of young children, I have a personal interest in its fortunes. Despite an extended period of offering poor product selection and a dire in-store environment, mothers continued to shop there.

Consumers wanted it to succeed. It was deemed to be essential to our high street. It had been there for years and it would be a loss if it suddenly disappeared. Thankfully, it now has management that know what the retailing game is all about, and the company is getting back onto the right track.

There is also a similar desire for M&S and WH Smith to succeed. With M&S - and I have tested this out on a number of consumers - there is a certain desire to return to its stores in the hope that you'll see something, or indeed anything, to buy.

This is surely a result of M&S becoming part of the British shoppers' psyche. It was once the biggest UK retailer and went overseas to trade before any other retailer.

Although Tesco has overtaken it in terms of size, the public doesn't appear to feel the same affinity with it as with M&S. Tesco's meteoric rise is such a success story, though, that this affinity hasn't been tested.

It would probably take some major reputation problem for M&S to swiftly lose the loyalty of many of its shoppers. Because of the desire for the company to succeed, shoppers give it many more chances than they would a lot of other retailers.

But underperformance can be tolerated only for so long. Take WH Smith.

The venture capital company Permira recently made a pounds 940m approach to the organisation. Permira clearly believes it can be turned around and that this will be achieved more easily if it is removed from the glare of the business media and City analysts.

Permira has lined up former Hamleys chief executive Simon Burke and Moss Bros chairman Keith Hamill, a former finance director of WH Smith, to bring retailing power to the business. …

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